Isaac Shelby was born on December 11, 1750, in Frederick (now Washington) County, Maryland. He was the son of Evan Shelby and Letitia Cox Shelby. He spent most of his time until he was twnety-one tending his father's farm, although he excelled at wilderness skills, leadership from watching his father and what education could be managed on the frontier. In 1773, he moved with the rest of his family to the Holston settlements on the western frontier of Virginia and what would become Tennessee.
In 1774, Lord Dunmore's War broke out and Isaac Shelby received a lieutenant's commission and served under his father Captain Evan Shelby in Fincastle County's militia Company. He fought at Point Pleasant on October 10, 1774, in fierce hand-to-hand combat with Indians under Cornstalk. Shelby's description of the action in a letter to his uncle John Shelby is considered by historian as the best account of the battle. Shelby then served as second-in-command of the garrison at Fort Blair, which was built near Point Pleasant at the mouth of the Great Kanahwa River until June 1775. Following that, he spent a year exploring and surveying lands in the territory of Kentucky.
Revolutionary War: 1776-1781
While in Kentucky on July 1776, Isaac Shelby was appointed captain of a minuteman company by the Virginia Committee of Safety. In 1777, he was appointed by Virginia Governor Patrick Henry as commissary of supplies for frontier militia. On July 20, 1777, he attended the Long Island Treaty at Fort Patrick Henry where his father served as one of the commissioners. In 1778, Shelby now performed the same service as commissary for the Continental Army in its operations by General Mcintosh against Detroit and the Ohio Indians. In 1779, he supplied boats for George Rogers Clark's Illinois campaign as well as a campaign against the Chickamauga Indians. In the spring of 1779, Shelby was elected to the Virginia Legislature from Washington County.
In the fall of 1779, he was commissioned a Major by Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson as part of a guard escort for commissioners deciding the western boundary of Virginia and North Carolina. In 1780, he was commissioned by North Carolina Governor Caswell as a Colonel of Sullivan County militia. On July 30, 1780, he captured Tory fortifications at the Pacelot River. He helped command the Patriots to victory at Musgrove's Mill on August 18. In September 1780, he joined other militia colonels including John Sevier in pursuit of Major Patrick Ferguson, who had threaten the settlements of the western frontier. The seven colonels shared command at the victory at the Battle of King's Mountain on October 7, 1780, though Shelby is often given large credit for the winning strategy and was awarded a sword by the North Carolina legislature. In May 1781, he and some of his mountaineers arrived at Augusta, Georgia to support the successful siege of Colonels Elijah Clarke and Andrew Pickens. He then joined and served under Francis Marion for the remainder of the war.
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